Rolling Along

I finally finished up my Action Research proposal today. Which also means I finished up the action research unit of my dip TESOL. I could write heaps about the experience. But I won’t. Because I don’t have any idea exactly what happened. Out of all the units so far, this was the one that, more often than not, just left me feeling kind of puzzled about what I was supposed to be doing. And that wasn’t the fault of my trainer who was always there for me and answered a really inexcusable number of emails. But maybe after I collect my data and get everything into some kind of concrete form, I’ll feel a little bit less nonplussed. If you are interested in my action research proposal, please feel free to have a read, although it’s not too exciting.

Which is actually what this post was supposed to be about. Excitement. You see, I got to just about the end of my proposal and spent two days not finishing it. I would tinker with a paragraph here or find a new bit of research I wanted to cram in there, but mostly I spent the two days just wishing I would wake up and the action research proposal fairies would have written the last few paragraphs for me while I was asleep.

But this morning I woke up and had an email in my in box which was almost as good as a ARP-fairy. A friend had sent me a friend’s paper on vocab cards. And this paper was so alive, the writer so believed in the importance of vocabulary cards in a language class, that the sense of conviction ran right through every single word on the page. I finished up the article on the train into work and realized that what was missing from my writing lately, both the words on the page and the feeling when I sat down at the computer, was that sense of conviction.

* * * 

This afternoon at school, we had a welcome party for the new first year students. Three of my International Course students came early to work as hosts. I hadn’t seen them for a while, so when they walked through the door, I asked them, “How was your spring break?”
     Tosh looked at me with wide eyes and shook his head, like someone trying to get water out of their ears.
     I asked him again, “How was your spring break?”
     He shook his head and slowly repeated to himself, “Howasya spring break?”
Well, at least he caught spring break. But Ri-chan and Sari didn’t do any better. So I handed them blank word cards and we did a little dictation. Once they got the phrase, “How was your…” written down on their cards, everything was fine and dandy and I learned that Tosh did nothing but sleep, Ri-chan very much enjoyed shopping, and Sari had to work at her part time job everyday. Two other International Course students came later and I gave them a word card each and told them to go and talk to Tosh and Ri-chan and Sari. By the end of the party, all the Interntional Course students had eaten too many chocolate chip cookies (not homemade, but very yummy in a chewy plastic kind of way), chatted up the first year students, and practiced the phrase “How was your…” to the point of near fluency.

After the students went home, I sat down on the computer and starting working on my action research proposal. I’m not sure if if I was writing with conviction, but that’s OK. It’s a research proposal.  If it was filled with strong convictions now, they would probably get in the way of finding out what I need to find out. But at least I wanted to write the paper. I didn’t want to just finish it, like that one last thunk of a mallet that drives the stake through dracula’s heart. I wanted to write it. To work on it. To help it take shape.

As English teachers we spend a lot of time talking about motivation. We search for the underlying factors that impact motivation, we draw links between motivation and autonomy. We argue about how to dilineate this motivation from that motivation. But how can we know what really motivates our students? Today I got an unexpected email, watched as a group of students made a piece of language their own, and ate as many chocolate chip cookies as I wanted. Today I finished writing my action research proposal. There was a feeling of excitement which carried over from event to event.  A certain easy rhythm developed over the course of the day.  Sometimes I think motivation is simply a form of emotional momentum.  If that’s true, than one of the most important parts of our job as teachers is to help the students who are already on their way to just keep rolling along.
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4 thoughts on “Rolling Along

  1. "…one of the most important parts of our job as teachers is to help the students who are already on their way to just keep rolling along." This is so true! A harder part of our job is getting the unmotivated students rolling. Inertia's a bitch. And then there are the ones rolling in the wrong direction — this metaphor seems to have a wealth of applications.

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  2. Hi Liz,No doubt stepping out of the way is a lot easier than getting the students moving. The intertia issue in the classroom…definitely post material. One of my mentors is very down on the whole idea of motivation. Says teachers use it as an excuse to blame the students. I wonder if he would be more comfortable with our physics based theory of student behavior. Next in-service I'm going to tell him, "There is a high rate of student inertia in my beginning oral communication class."Kevin

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  3. Hi Kevin,People always talk about students motivation; my feeling is that there as we teachers we can affect it only at the margins and, as you intimated, it is easier to destroy motivation rather than engender it.There is relatively little said about teacher motivation, other than talking about pay. While salaries are obviously important I don't think many of us went into this career thinking we would become millionaires. So is there a secret to actually motivating teachers?

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  4. Hi Stephen,I couldn't agree more that often times the best we can do is simply not step on what motivation our students have. And I really appreciate bringing the conversation around to teachers and teacher motivation. Lately I'm feeling that using the internet to build a supportive PLN is about the best thing teachers have going in the way of motivators. I know that a number of the things I am working on now (short fiction for ELLs, humanizing the EIKEN testing process) arose from getting in touch with other teachers grappling with the same issues. And I want to give a big shout out to #ELTchat on Twitter. An hour of tweets whizzing by always leaves me willing to think about what I'm doing in class and try a new slant on how I teach.Hope you stop in again,Kevin

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